Saturday, February 2, 2008

Drifting on a ...


In his Cadenza intro to Drifting on a Read: Jazz as a Model for Writing, Michael Jarrett discusses the concept of tropes--in his words "generalizable strategies for invention." Jarrett defines jazz's loose and creative improvisational focus as, perhaps ironically, dependent on the "Law of the Trope."

Jarrett devotes a full third of the chapter to riffing on a quote attributed to Louis Armstrong. Regarding a woman who asked him to define jazz, he replied, "Lady, if you gotta ask what it is, you'll never know." Jarrett playfully examines the quote from numerous philosophical perspectives. We get Armstrong the Modernist, Armstrong the Marxist, Armstrong the Metaphysicist, etc. In doing so, Jarrett draws the connection to each of these viewpoints as a "trope," or as a way of turning the phrase, re-reading it anew to tease out more possibilities and fresh meaning. Of course, it could be read by Saussureans, structuralists, and homespun philosophers alike in much the way a popular email answers 'Why did the chicken cross the road'. That is, it reduces the entire philosophy or religion to a mere sentence [What is jazz? Marx: "Them that ask have got to go"; Deconstruction: "What it is is a question of what is is."] But at the end of the day, the exercise is just that: a game that demonstrates the possibilities of the game. By continually rereading the statement from different points of view--a la jazz troping--Jarrett shows the wide range of possible results.

Jarrett's project is to use jazz as an example of how to 'invent' in other fields (particularly writing in this case, but it appears he is open to other areas--reading beyond chapter one should detail whether this is the case or if his focus is more tightly on writing). Creative types have perhaps always felt free to be-bop around like this--writers play with words, artists play 'trope' with art, etc. But Jarrett's hope is for the jazz model to open up creative play beyond those already open to it. And perhaps for those in the know to have a better grasp of the why and how--or perhaps to have an extra tool in their arsenal (i.e. now that I've written this post, perhaps I should revisit it from the ol' satura trope and mix in a few other thoughts).

3 comments:

David said...

Smart point: "Jarrett defines jazz's loose and creative improvisational focus as, perhaps ironically, dependent on the "Law of the Trope."

"Perhaps ironically" is almost always an issue with writers like Jarrett. This is both a good and bad thing, in my view. I think it's product of his background and approach: late deconstruction era. Writers after Paul De Man often cultivated a French like theatrical style. It can be annoying, but it can also be as you say, hugely emphatic in terms of "invention" and "creativity."

I like the analytical part of it too: what would a Marxian Louis Armstrong say? God help me, I can hear his voice saying the very words you quote here....

According to Karol said...

"Continually rereading the statement from different points of view" Thank you Ryan! I feel better! That really makes sense to my plodding methodical mind about how jazz is a metaphor for ACADEMIC writing. That is what we do, isn't it? Interpret things from numerous, various points of view. It's actually my favorite most treasured thing about studying lit or teaching writing: that access to multiple points of view.

David said...

Thanks, Ryan, for the links section of your blog.